Police officers are not super beings. They are much the same as the people they serve and protect. It would not be unusual for a police officer to be affected by some of the things they deal with, yet rarely are fictional detectives bothered by the things they come across.
However, in real life, senior investigators have a duty to consider their own welfare and that of their staff. It is widely accepted that people react differently to traumatic situations or incidents on emotional and behavioural levels, which is why it is important to watch out for signs that someone may be suffering adverse effects when dealing with unpleasant incidents.
Some of the indicators may include any, all or several of the following:
- having trembling or shaking hands or limbs
- experiencing an increased breathing rate or a racing heartbeat
- having difficulty concentrating
- being tearful
- being anxious
- being agitated
- seeming over alert
- being over talkative or becoming mute
- having feelings of guilt, self-blame or anger at self and others
- feeling emotionally detached, emotionally blunt or numb.
It is important that if any of these signs are evident, welfare needs are identified as soon as possible and support is made available to reduce potential long-term damage being suffered by the individual.
That immediate support can include
- responding to them as an individual, in a calm, sensitive manner
- taking the person to a quiet, private location
- acknowledging the person’s thoughts and feelings about the event and timescales, no matter how bizarre they may seem
- allowing them to express their distress openly
- allowing them to talk without attempting to pacify them or change the subject
- normalising the person’s experience by reinforcing common-sense reactions
- encouraging them to be with and speak to colleagues.
Other longer term practical options may include:
- ensuring that individuals take a longer break before continuing their duties
- temporarily moving them to another role and allowing them to speak to a colleague who has experienced a similar event
- allowing them to take time off and/or seeking support from other sources and agencies
- referring the individual to occupational health services.
Many of these problems can either be eliminated or minimized through conducting specific risk assessments to help police officers and staff to prepare for encountering disturbing images or situations.
Will any of your fictional characters suffer any of the above symptoms and will they get the support they need?
For more ideas of how to progress your police characters and their actions, examine your copy of the British Police and Crime Directory for Writers and Researchers or click on the picture below to buy your copy: